South Korea to give animals legal status to fight abuse and abandonment

South Korea plans to change its civil code to grant animals legal status, Choung Jae-min, legal counsel at the country’s justice ministry’s, told Reuters.

The amendment will probably be approved by parliament in September and will recognise animals as sentient beings, with a right to protection and welfare.

The number of animal abuse cases in the country increased from 69 in 2010 to 914 in 2019, data published by a lawmaker’s office showed.

Under the current legal system, animals are treated as objects, Jae-Min said. Once the Civil Act declares animals are no longer simply things, judges and prosecutors will have more options when determining sentences, he said.

Dog buried alive
“Animals are not objects. Certainly, they are not objects. But there are people who can’t control their anger and take it out on their dogs,” Kim Gea-yeung, head of an animal shelter for abandoned dogs and cats in Seoul, said.

Jin-hui, a cream-coloured Pomeranian, was buried alive and left for dead in 2018 in the South Korean port city of Busan.

“His owner lost his temper and told his kids to bury him alive. He was barely alive when we rescued him after it was reported, but the man wasn’t punished as the dog was recognised as an object owned by him,” Gea-yeung said.

Ban dog meat
Animal rights groups welcomed the justice ministry’s plan while also calling for stricter penalties for animal abuse and a ban on dog meat.

“The amendment of the Civil Act defining ‘Animals are not objects’, is an attempt towards great change, and we welcome it,” Cheon Chin-kyung, head of Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA), said.

“However, abuse, abandonment, and neglect of pets have not improved in our society and need to be controlled by subsequent legislation,” he said.

“One of the most typical cases of such abuse is the consumption of dog meat, which should also be prohibited by law,” Chin-kyung added.

In South Korea, many abandoned dogs inevitably end up being caught and sent to meat farms. Animal abandonment rose to 130,401 in 2020 from 89,732 cases in 2016, the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency said.

South Korea has an estimated 6 million pet dogs and 2.6 million cats.

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